Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 26, 2001

New MRI Technique Detects Coronary Artery Disease Is There a Link Between Mono and Multiple Sclerosis? Red Cross Appeals for Blood Donations Supplement May Cause Cancer Risk: Study Corticosteroids Sweet Relief for Sinusitis Sufferers Flu Vaccine in Plentiful Supply

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of the HealthDay Service:

MRI Technique Can Detect Diseased Coronary Arteries: Study

An imaging technique that uses an MRI device can detect most diseased coronary arteries and spare many heart patients a more invasive, expensive and uncomfortable test, researchers say, according to an Associated Press report today.

MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, has been used for the past 10 years to study very large blood vessels such as the aorta. Patients must lie inside the MRI machine, a giant electromagnet that yields 3-D images of the body.

Now doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have adapted the technology to produce a series of high-resolution images of the relatively small coronary arteries.

A new study -- the first to try the system at several hospitals and on previously untested patients -- found it detected every diseased coronary artery in 75 percent of the patients and found the most life-threatening blockages in 89 percent, AP said. The research was reported in the Dec. 27 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.


Is There a Link Between Mono and Multiple Sclerosis?

Researchers say they have turned up a possible link between multiple sclerosis and the Epstein-Barr virus, which is best known as the cause of infectious mononucleosis, HealthDay reported today.

Going through the records of two large studies in which thousands of women gave blood samples, a team led by Dr. Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard School of Public Health found that unusually high levels of antibodies triggered by the virus are associated with the onset of MS.

Epstein-Barr is one of the most common viruses, infecting as much as 95 percent of American adults. The immune system normally produces antibodies against the virus, but the levels of those antibodies generally decline after a few months.

In Ascherio's study, elevated levels of antibodies were associated with a four-fold increased risk of MS, a chronic degenerative disease in which repeated episodes of inflammation destroy the covering of nerve cells, causing weakness, movement problems, pain and paralysis. MS affects about 350,000 Americans.

The study appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.


Red Cross Appeals for Blood Donations

Only months after a post-Sept. 11 surge of blood donations, the American Red Cross says supplies are running low, the Associated Press reported.

Red Cross officials said today that most of their 36 regional blood centers have half their normal supply of blood platelets for this time of year. Blood platelets, which are used to help stop bleeding in cancer patients, spoil after five days.

Blood and platelet supplies are typically low during the holiday season, with Americans on vacation or busy shopping. But platelet levels were unusually low, with 32 regions having only about a half-day supply, said Susan Kluesner, a spokeswoman for the St. Paul, Minn.-based North Central Blood Services of the American Red Cross.


Supplement May Cause Cancer Risk: Study

Chromium picolinate, the nutritional supplement embraced by fitness fanatics and bodybuilders, is becoming popular among diabetics who believe it will keep their blood sugar under better control. But an Arizona scientist -- Diana Stearns, assistant professor of biochemistry at Northern Arizona University -- has discovered that hefty doses of the supplement cause mutations in the cells of hamsters, according to HealthDay.

It's not clear if these findings also apply to people, but they raise the possibility that the controversial supplement may cause cancer. However, a doctor who represents the supplement industry says the study is "very bad science" because it didn't use live animals and relied on unreasonably high amounts of chromium picolinate.


Corticosteroids Sweet Relief for Sinusitis Sufferers

Inhaling corticosteroids through the nose may quicken relief from painful sinus infections, reports HealthDay.

Adding the therapy to the conventional treatment for patients who suffer from repeated or chronic sinus infections may cure more cases, says a report in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One expert says the finding could change the standard treatment for patients with chronic or recurrent sinusitis.

Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses, the cavities behind the nose that normally drain into the nasal passages. A cold or a bout with allergy can inflame the sinuses, blocking drainage and leading to infection. This can cause symptoms including pain, tenderness, fever, runny nose and a cough that worsens at night.

People with asthma, allergies or hay fever are at risk for chronic sinusitis, as are those with a history of nasal obstruction, such as a deviated septum and cysts or polyps that block drainage of the sinuses.


Flu Vaccine in Plentiful Supply

There's plenty of flu vaccine to go around, reports CNN, with about 10 million doses remaining in drug-company stockpiles.

Only half the Americans considered at high risk have received this year's vaccination, however. This may be because this year's flu outbreaks have been slow in coming, with reports of flu activity in 25 states, according to Dr. Keiji Fukuda, an influenza expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "If people can continue to vaccinate, we still stand a really excellent chance of preventing hospitalizations and death from influenza," he said.

Concerns that patients and doctors would confuse flu symptoms with anthrax have not materialized. About 57 million doses of the vaccine, sold for about $5 to $6 per dose, have been distributed by three companies.

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